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Fringe binge: Six reviews from this year's festival

August 16, 2015

If my math is correct—and on a groggy morning after a long day of fringing, there’s really no reason to believe it is—there are thousands of different schedules that can be created out of a single weekend day at the IndyFringe festival.

Running through Aug. 23, the festival features 78 different shows at eight venues on and near Mass Ave. No human being without a cloning machine can see all of it so, for the first Saturday of the fest, I picked six—allowing time for a dinner break. For a full schedule, visit here.

“Top Shelf…Our Last American Tour Again”

The fictional UK pop duo Top Shelf was apparently sufficiently popular to warrant a “VH1 Behind the Music” episode (sampled in a too-brief video segment that kicks off the show). And according to the title, this may or may not be the combo’s last stage time together. But “Top Shelf…Our last American Tour Again” doesn’t bother much with plot or any sort of forward motion. Instead, what we see appears to be just another show for the hard-drinking pair of singer/musicians, prone to harassing their put-upon roadie and singing songs about their naughty bits. With tunes wisely kept short—and amusingly played on imaginary instruments—"Top Shelf" still feels like an opening act rather than a headliner. Seriously thanks to the show, though, for introducing me to the phrase "two shakes and a top hat."

“Jason Adams is a God Damn Mind Reader”

In a clear demonstration of how good spirits and high energy can win over an audience, Jason Adams—abetted by vocalist/assistant Erin Carr Adams—offers a fun variation on magic shows that have become a Fringe staple. I recently wrote here about Adams when he sampled some of his work at the “10@10” show at ComedySportz and the trick shown there is just one of the offerings here. Ably mixing self-deprecating and self-aggrandizement, Adams’ show starts with a trip down the line outside of the theater and doesn’t stop until high-fives are given on the way out.  

“New/Next/Now”

For the first few years of Dance Kaleidoscope’s involvement in IndyFringe, there were some who questioned whether or not the fest was really the place for an established Indy arts company to present work that had previously been performed during its mainstage season. (Some, of course, were just jealous of the crowds DK was drawing.) More recently, though, DK has changed its own rules, turning its Fringe offering into a showcase for new work choreographed by its own dancers. The result seems a win all around, providing work on the fringe of DK’s usual offerings, giving dancers a high-visibility opportunity to choreograph, offering DK loyalists a chance to see more work from their beloved company, and exposing newcomers to the city’s top professional dance troupe. In this year’s collection of seven pieces, all have strong moments. The standouts for overall vision and execution: Noah Trulock’s “Silently/Seeking/Solace,” in which tensions of office life give way to fantasies of playful youth; Jillian Godwin’s “Flashes of Life,” with its lovely staircase final moment; and Mariel Greenlee’s complex look at love and control, “State of Grace.” All in all, a wonderful mini-festival within the festival.

“Mr. Boniface, the Wise”

KT Peterson’s comedic drama benefits from the strong presence of Elsie McNulty, a 7th grader who, via Q Artistry, Eclectic Pond, NoExit, and Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project, has generated an acting resume that would be the envy of thespians three times her age.  The talented McNulty is in good company, with pros Frankie Bolda, Amy Hayes, and Benjamin Schuetz rounding out the solid, go-for-it cast. It starts off with great flair with a jazzy introduction to the characters, but that style is abandoned for the most part as a tale takes over of a loopy household that includes a narcoleptic mother, a troublemaking teen, and a kid sister who talks to the creature in her wallpaper. “Mr. Boniface” is over-stuffed with absurd quirks without building to anything particular, but there’s fun along the way.

“Holy Ficus”

Finding a place for itself in a plot of creative ground shared by Edward Albee’s “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?” and the film “Lars and the Real Girl”—and watered by Dante’s “Divine Comedy”—“Holy Ficus” tells of a man who journies to heaven and hell after his beloved plant loses its life. While it doesn’t reach the blissful, you-gotta-go-see-this level of last year’s “The Great Bicycle Race” (also from Zach Rosing Productions), it provides plenty of laughs, an abundance of clever ideas, some tuneful songs, and smile-inducing performances by a spirited ensemble. It’s a show I’d like to see developed further if the intention is to branch out to other festivals.

“Camp Summer Camp”

It’s the summer of 1984—or, at least, the summer of 1984 as filtered through movies we remember about the 80s—and a Canadian summer camp is experiencing yet another season of singalongs, athletic competition, incest, violent murder, and virginity-losing. The shorts are short, the boundaries pushed, and the laughs consistent and strong in this offering from Defiance Comedy. I could have used fewer acknowledgement of the artifice—the show is funniest when the characters are committed to its crazed reality—and the riser-less seating at the Musicians Union Hall creates challenging sightlines—but this is the sort of big fun show that not only should prove a Fringe hit but should also convert audience members into Defiance Comedy fans (the group stages work throughout the year). Now would someone get the theme song out of my head, please?

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